Sunday, 30 June 2013

Hippolyte et Aricie Rameau Glyndebourne Part One

Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie at Glyndebourne last night. CLICK HERE FOR MY FULL REVIEW. Haha! Judging by the applause most of the audience entered into its vivacious spirit of fun. Anarchy is "true" to the baroque ethos of throwing everything together in as extrreme form as possible. Hence Greek Gods, mythic heroes, symbols of virtue all tumbled in together and presented with the most audacious effects possible. If 17th/18th century producers had electricity and flying guy wires, you bet they would have used them. Indeed, some of the costumes (esp the demons) could come straight out of period illustrations. And so the show starts with an audacious shock: Diana the Goddess in a refrigerator.

That should drive the "purists"crazy. But Diana is the goddess of frigidity. So why not depict her in a Frigidaire? Rameau emphasizes her frigid, rigid mindset. For her, feelings should be sealed in air tight compartments. Ultra chill. Diana comes out of the freezer. Her colours are those of frost, and the "pale sterile moon".

Nature, though, is having nothing of artificial cool. In the egg compartment, Cupid is breaking out, challenging Diana with bright colours Hippolyte loves Aricie but she's dedicated herself to Diana and Diana's anti-love values. So we enter the realms of the Underworld where hell fire reigns. Is hell the opposite of Dian'a cool? So the Devil stands astride the over-heated workings of a fridge, where things go wrong with the wiring. Loved the bluebottle flies! Gloriously funny and oddly beautiful. They've come to feast on decay, which is what happens when Nature takes its natural course. In any case, the downside of Diana's frigid rule is violence and death. She's the goddess of the hunt, symbolized by dead stags. Her maidens look pure, but they are blooded.The denizens of the Underworld turn out to be more kind-hearted than the goddess.

 Diana gets her revenge. Phaedra falls hopelessly in love with Hippolyte and curses him because he doesn't love her back.  The problem is that Phaedra is married to Theseus, Hippolyte's father and Dad's so mad he wants his son dead. So he calls on his own father, the God Neptune who just happens to controls the seas and storms. So Grandad sends down a Tempest, while his underlings, the matelots, dance. The matelots are in fact defined as such in the score, though they might as well be any other symbol of Neptune's power. Besides, Rameau needed a chorus to balance Diana's chorus of devotees.

In Rameau's time, audiences would have got the references to classical symbols and picked up on details like the strange peaks in the hunters' wigs - like foxes' ears!  Nowadays, unfortunately, some - not all - audiences seem to pride themselves on determinedly "not" getting anything and stomping down anyone else. Alas, their loss. William Christie probably knows more about Rameau and the baroque aesthetic than most of us ordinary mortals. He conducted with verve and glee, inspiring similarly enthusiastic singing of which I'll write more later.

My partner whispered. "If this is good enough for William Christie, it's good enough for me". By sheer coincidence who should we meet at the interval but William Christie himself. So I told him. He burst out laughing. "That's exactly the sort of feedback I like to hear!". Perhaps iit helped to make his day. Certainly, he made mine.

HERE is my full review in Opera Today
photo : Bill Cooper, courtesy Glyndebourne Festival

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